Russia — MOSCOW: Fires are likely to ravage peat bogs near Moscow this summer, threatening to engulf the city in smoke in a repeat of an ordeal that drove up the death rate in the capital last year, Greeenpeace Russia said on Thursday.
Peat bogs around the city are still smouldering after forest and peat fires last year that scorched Russia in a record heat wave, shaving billions of dollars off the country’s GDP and helping to prompt a ban on grain exports.
“A large amount of fires last year and this year do not show up in official statistics, but we’ve counted 64 peat fires around Moscow right now,” Greenpeace Russia’s forest programme chief Alexei Yaroshenko told Reuters.
“The fire situation will be as bad as last year if not worse,” he predicted.
President Dmitry Medvedev ordered officials in April to ensure there would be no repeat of the fires that destroyed a quarter of the country’s crops.
Forest fires are already blazing in Russia’s Far East as well as the oil-rich Siberian region of Khanty-Mansiysk, the Emergency Situations Ministry said in May.
Greenpeace volunteer programme head Grigory Kuksin said that “smoke in Moscow and other large cities in Russia will be unavoidable,” according to state-run RIA news agency.
“The only question is to what degree.” Weather will be a crucial factor. Last year, hot, dry weather contributed to fires that caused the amount of harmful impurities in Moscow’s air to exceed the norm by 5-8 times.
The 2010 heat wave that fanned wildfires and blanketed Moscow with acrid smoke pushed up deaths in Russia by one-fifth in July and August over the same period of the previous year, a government report said.
In early August, a Moscow heath official said about 700 people were dying daily in the capital, nearly twice the norm.
Kremlin critics said legislation approved by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during his 2000-2008 presidency gutted Russia’s forest management system and slowed the response to the fires.
But Putin and Medvedev have suffered little political fallout from the wildfires ahead of presidential elections next year, in which both have said they may run.